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Participatory Culture, Community, and Play

Learning from Reddit


Adrienne L. Massanari

What does online community look like in the age of social networking? How do participatory culture platforms reflect both their designers’ intentions and the desires of their users? In this incisive and timely work, Adrienne L. Massanari discusses how culture is created and challenged on, the self-proclaimed «front page of the internet». Reddit enables the sharing of original and reposted content from around the web, and provides a platform for like-minded individuals to commune around topics of interest – everything from the joys of drinking beer in a shower (/r/showerbeer) to celebrating the pleasures of tidy penmanship (/r/penmanshipporn). Massanari’s ethnographic work provides a detailed examination of the contradictions that shape Reddit’s culture and how they reflect its role as an epicenter of geek culture. The book explores the ways in which community on Reddit is formed and solidified through play and humor, and the complex ways in which Redditors come together, which demonstrate a deep capacity for altruism and charitable giving, but can easily lapse into mob action. It also explores the community’s troubling gender and racial politics and how some Redditors are carving out their own space on the site to fight back.
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Chapter 5. Playing seriously


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Trying to pinpoint exactly when or why I first visited reddit is difficult. I know I had heard about it through BoingBoing and other technology-minded blogs, and it’s likely that a number of my friends had sent me links from the site. But I resisted creating an account for as long as possible, despite visiting reddit with some regularity. Why? Well, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content on the site, and, more important, I was awed by the cleverness with which redditors interacted with one another. These people were quick—quick with a pun, a bon mot, a retort, a pop culture reference—and it was intimidating to think about joining in with them. This sense of frivolity and play is part of what I find most appealing about reddit. And reddit is at its best when play serves to offer incisive commentary about those in power—and at its worst when it focuses its sights on those already marginalized or disempowered.

Patterns of play

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